“I understand,” Lisa murmured. “You feel trapped.”
“My father told me that if I didn’t propose to her this year, he’d force me out of the kingdom. My father and I have never been particularly close, but I know that family is of the utmost importance to him. I know that I’m to follow in his footsteps, and I’m to marry the woman who has been chosen for me. But I can’t imagine this is the only option—”
“This, being Princess Rose?” Lisa asked.
“Right,” he replied. “She’s awful.”
“You did mention that,” Lisa said, stifling a smile. “I can’t say she looks like a mass murderer. But in your words—”
“Just a few steps away from that severity,” the Prince said, laughing. “You’re funny, Lisa. I haven’t met anyone funny in a long time.”
“In this business, you have to have a sense of humor,” Lisa said, taking a slight sip of her soup, allowing the flavors and spices and warmth to fold over her. “You should really eat the rest of your soup. The chef will be mortified if you don’t. You don’t want him to leave his job, do you?”
“Of course not,” the Prince laughed. He took another hearty bite, chewing easily.
A comfortable silence folded over them, allowing Lisa a moment with her thoughts. She appreciated the ease with which the Prince spoke to her, delivering the truth of his life, and the lack of love within it.
As a kid, she’d understood that the world was rich with secrets, with people who wanted to hide with their own thoughts. She’d recognized that her mother hadn’t wanted to divulge many of her truths—how tired she was, how sad she was after the death of her father, or how worried she was when Lisa stayed out too late. But wasn’t it healthier, freer, to live vibrantly, wearing the truth of your emotions on your sleeve?
Lisa slipped her hand over the Prince’s on the table, sensing electricity between them. The laughter and silliness had died off, revealing the strange compatibility between them—a prince, and a girl from Detroit.
She peered into his eyes. “What are you going to do?” she whispered.
The Prince paused. The emotion between them was as deep as a well. “I’m going to call the wedding off,” he breathed, his voice heavy. “I don’t see any other way. We’re too incompatible. We can’t agree on a thing.”
Lisa nodded, her eyes filled with understanding and sympathy. “Then you must. You have to follow your heart. Why would you do anything else?”
The Prince nodded. “Thank you, Lisa,” he said. “I can’t thank you enough. I can’t believe I just told you all that. Carry it to your grave, won’t you?”
“I wouldn’t dream of telling anyone,” Lisa said. She smiled through the moments of silence, as the classical music trickled around them. In the distance, she saw Evelyn’s eyes through the kitchen window.
The Prince tilted his head back, then, sipping the rest of his wine. He set the empty glass beside his near-empty bowl of soup, and gestured toward her. “What are you doing after your shift, Lisa?” he asked her.
Lisa balked, her mind suddenly racing for an excuse. After all: she needed to return home and send the shots to Rocco, to ensure that the funds got into her account by the weekend. The rent was due in just a few days, and she certainly couldn’t put food on her table without it. For a brief moment, her mind fluttered over the possibility of actually working at the Matador, raking in tips. But ultimately, she’d have to confess to the lie. And she wouldn’t be able to handle Evelyn’s disappointment when the truth came out.
But as Lisa sat, the seconds ticking on, she reasoned something else. With all the knowledge that the Prince was delivering—about the truth of his sham marriage and the fact that he was going to call the wedding off—she could earn a few thousand dollars more, at least, if she sold the story to Rocco. With more time with the Prince at her disposal, she could expound on what she already knew and deliver the biggest, most salacious story of her career.
“I can see that you want to say you’re busy,” the Prince said, laughing. “And I completely understand. I do.” He began to wave his fingers, affirming that the space between them could remain. “Please. Forget I said anything.”
“No, no,” Lisa said, her eyes bright. “I want to come with you. And I’m free. I just need to run home and change first. You don’t want to be seen out with me, wearing this stupid uniform. I can promise you that.” She flashed a smile.
“Well, if you really think you’ll be more comfortable—” the Prince began, leaning forward.
Lisa could smell him, the musk making her spirits hum. She felt sensual, brimming with yearning. For a split second, she forgot that she was going with him in order to hone her story and reap the benefits.
“I will be. Where should I meet you?” she asked.
“At the B-flat, in Brooklyn. It’s a trendy jazz bar, perfect for us. I’m tired of these stuffy, expensive restaurants, anyway.” His eyes brightened, and he swiped his fingers over his napkin. He slapped nine hundred dollars into the bill that she’d brought to the table and got to his feet, abandoning the rest of the meal. “Give my compliments to the chef. And tell the staff to keep the change. I’ll see you in an hour.”
Lisa blinked rapidly, watching him recover his coat, even before the cloakroom boy could retrieve it. He hailed a taxi and disappeared into the chilly fall evening, leaving her alone, brimming with pre-emptive pleasure.
Evelyn appeared beside her, then. She leaped up and down, the nine hundred dollars clasped in her hands. “A 200% tip, Lisa! Can you imagine! What a strange, terrible night. But tonight, we’ll party like royalty!”
Lisa stretched a smile over her face and hurriedly cleaned the table, suddenly feeling a part of the restaurant staff. She accepted her tip and then raced from the restaurant, placing a brief kiss on Evelyn’s cheek as she went.